MELISSA ETHERIDGE at the Hummingbird Centre, August 12. Tickets: $35-$100. Attendance: sold out. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
The leader of emotional lesbian rock 'n' roll ( lesmo?) is back from the brink.
"I saw you all a week before my life changed," said the sultry-voiced Kansas-born songwriter, rolling up her sleeves before relaying a funny anecdote about cancer.
The spirit of surviving and thriving stirred the crowd of hardcore Melissa Etheridge fans packed into the Hummingbird Centre on a sold-out Saturday night. Ably backed by a solid three-piece of dudes with 80s style, Etheridge rocked for a near three solid hours without so much as taking a breath.
In a blond spiked crewcut, Etheridge strutted like a hyper Sapphic Elvis, as if surviving breast cancer has given her a new appreciation for where she's most comfortable: onstage.
With gutsy, raw vocals and dramatic crescendos, she pumped through hits like Way I Do, Yes I Am and Come To My Window. The chemistry between her recently back-on-board drummer Fritz Lewak and Toronto-born guitarist Philip Sayce (even if he did occasionally get too friendly with the whammy bar) was palpable.
Etheridge preached throughout the evening on love and life and was full of pre-song banter rife with sappy axioms not too far off thematically from her lyrical clichés. But her strength as a soulful singer caused even the most cynical to swoon.
During classic blues-rock ode to desperation Bring Me Some Water, she pressed her guitar up against Sayce's in a glorious feedback make-out session. Taking impromptu requests from twin fans in the first row, she sang a gorgeously mournful version of sweetheart ballad You Can Sleep While I Drive worth the price of admission.
While the set lagged in the middle with lyric mishaps in cheesy ballad When Angels Fall, Etheridge regrouped by launching into breast cancer anthem I Walk For Life. Some of us pondered, "Hey, wait, isn't this in a commercial?" while others cried tears of recognition at the song's theme.
Highlight of the evening was a perfect cover from her Greatest Hits album of Janis Joplin's Piece Of My Heart - solid, gutsy and brazenly rock 'n' roll, essential Etheridge at her best.